How to use makeup highlighters

They'll give your face dimension and make your skin glow—that is, if you know how to use them correctly. An expert explains.
Want this gorgeous, natural dewy look? Read these tips for how to apply a radiance-boosting highlighter. (Photo: Kjaer Weis)

Makeup highlighters are magical. Like a spotlight with the perfect filter, they give your face dimension and make your skin glow in place of a good night’s sleep. That is, if you know how to use them correctly. Hint: don’t treat them like blush or a bronzer.

And since most of us didn’t exactly take a course in their application (guilty!), we’ve tapped the know-how of editorial makeup artist Kristen Arnett.

Kristen Arnett
“If you go crazy with highlighter, it can actually backfire and make you look older or sweaty,” Arnett says. (Photo: Kristen Arnett)

The New Yorker and green beauty expert’s been dabbing makeup on runway models and regular folk for ten-plus seasons, and here she provides tips on how to apply these I-woke-up-like-this beauty staples.

What is a highlighter?

A highlighter brings light to features on the face. Like a perfect Instagram filter, it can make your eyes, cheekbones, and lips pop, and give your face a naturally glowy, poreless look. To achieve this highlighters contain minerals that reflect light. (Think the old Vaseline on the camera lens trick of the 1940 films.) It works so well, some women skip foundation or powder when using it. And it’s a fave of models and natural beauty mavens galore.

Where to apply it

This is not an all-over-your-face product—there are few small, key places it goes: “If you want your cheek bones to look high, you should put highlighter on the top of your cheekbone,” Arnett says. And for bigger eyes, “apply it on the inner corner of each eye, where the tear duct is,” she says. Some women like to apply a tad to the cupid bow of their lips or just under their brow arch. “If you bring out the wrong planes of the face, it’s not a good look,” says Arnett. Think looking sweaty instead of glowy.

How to apply it

“What’s cool about [a highlighting stick] is you can literally use it like a crayon and mark it in stripes exactly where you want it,” Arnett says, who’s also a fan of using your clean hands to blend it in as needed. Dabbing on a cream highlighter with your fingers is also easy.

As for how much to use, “Women, myself included, often see sparkly things and we want to put it all on everywhere. And that’s not a good idea in this case,” Arnett says. “Your face is not a disco ball. A highlighter is really a final touch to make the face pop and give it beautiful dimension.”

Keep that in mind—and keep it simple—when applying these three new beauty highlighters, that will take you radiantly from summer to fall…Molly Gallagher

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